Discourse, by definition, is ‘a group of statements which provide a language for talking about’ (Hall, 1992). To put it simply, it is a way of representation. Yet, discourse has more than one meaning – it can also refer to the act of making a speech, official or unofficial (Tonkiss, 2012). Though it is defined as a kind of ‘speech’, the form of making a discourse is not limited to only speaking – it can also be in the form of writing, drawing, or other forms that you can think of. When it is comes to logo and branding, we generally refer to the presenting and the packaging of the products.
While people always compare between the psychoanalytic approach raised by Sigmund Freud and the discourse analysis approach proposed by Michel Foucault, people generally consider the discourse analysis as better in addressing how social institutions and practices affect the way an image is produced. There are two types of discourse analysis, namely the discourse analysis I and discourse analysis II, and the two of them show a slight difference and, hence, different research results will be produced using different approaches.
In my understanding, discourse analysis I focuses more on the content of the presentation. For example, in a speech, the content of the speech (i.e. what the presenter said) would be what we focus on in discourse analysis I. Other examples would be ‘visual images and verbal texts’ (Rose, 2001). While discourse analysis I focuses more on the content, discourse analysis II focuses more on the ‘practices of institutions’. To put it simply, it studies how the speech is presented, instead of what is presented.
Using Elliott’s article on Starbucks (2001) as an example. Starbucks is a popular iconic brand of coffee retailers. We can use discourse analysis to study how Starbucks becomes an iconic brand.
First, let’s look at the name of the coffee beans it sells. Starbucks names the beans based on mostly where they come from. Therefore, when customers buy a cup of coffee from Starbucks, they feel like they are buying something more than just a cup of coffee – they are buying a culture across globe as well! Yet, what the customers don’t know is that, the coffee is most of the time made by mixing beans from multiple origins, so that Starbucks can make a coffee that tastes the best. In other words, Starbucks is making the culture themselves. Consumers are purchasing culture that is often over simplified (a country’s culture is way more than just its coffee beans) or even made-up. Yet, consumers find it satisfying when Starbucks sells coffee that involve more than just coffee. That is how Starbucks makes use of discourse and shapes the package of its coffee, and how it affects consumers’ images towards Starbuck’s coffee.
What is more, instead of naming their staff servers, they are called barista; similarly, Starbucks does not measure its coffee in the size of small, medium, large, instead they use the Italian measurement of short, grande and venti. Hence, also with the coffee originated from different cultures, it provides consumers with a coffee experience from multiple cultures.
Starbucks also makes use of words in order to make consumers’ coffee experience more special. It provides personal services by providing the best type of coffee
Elliott, C. (2001). “Consuming caffeine: The discourse of Starbucks and coffee” In: Consumption, Markets and Culture, 4(4), pp. 369-382.
Hall, S. (1992). The West and the Rest: Discourse and power. The Indigenous Experience: Global Perspectives, 165-173.
Rose, G. (2001). Visual methodologies: An introduction to researching with visual materials. London: Sage. (Chapter 6: Discourse Analysis I)
Tonkiss, F. (2012). Discourse analysis. In: C. Seale (ed.), Researching Society and Culture (pp. 405–423). London: Sage.